The Rich Media Year in Review

As I approach my one-year anniversary writing for ClickZ (and my 43rd column), I thought it would be interesting to revisit the rich media world over the last year and reminisce.

The interesting thing about the rich media industry over the last year is how relatively stable it has been. Most of the traditional players are still around, with a few exceptions, and a lot more have entered the arena. So let’s take a look back:

1. What’s in a name. In my first column, I talked about the difficulties of defining rich media. A year later, it’s still one of the first questions I’m asked. But, in general, the term has spread like wildfire. I can’t pick up a magazine or newspaper without the term “rich media” popping up somewhere.

Of the technologies I examined in that first column, only cursors haven’t quite caught on in the advertising space, although a number of them besides Comet Systems have come and (seemingly) gone, including adPointer and Cursormate.

My personal rich media epiphany came when Tim Koogle, CEO of rich-media-phobic Yahoo, declared that rich media was going to be Yahoo’s savior when it came to shoring up the fort against shrinking ad revenues.

This was also the year that Macromedia really woke up to the advertising industry and started thinking seriously about Flash as an advertising technology. Look for more from Macromedia in Q1 2001.

2. We hardly knew ye. Few rich media companies have shuffled off this mortal coil, but some have shifted away from the advertising space, including The Thinking Media, which changed its name to Sonata to focus on WAP wireless tools, and AudioBase, which sidled over to e-commerce.

Enliven’s struggles got some press from me this year, but it recently seemed to regain its footing. On the other hand, Unicast and Bluestreak keep going strong, with Bluestreak winning the award for best advertising campaign (for itself): giant billboards in Times Square featuring agency professionals sporting blue Mohawks.

3. Mail call. The big story this year was the rise of rich media email. Radical Communication led the way, and newcomers Dynamics Direct, TMXinteractive, and inChorus followed right behind. eCommercial changed its name to MindArrow and also got into the act with its eBrochure.. By the end of this month, only inChorus seems to be the one among the newcomers to have stumbled. And every day a new contender fills my inbox with some new email gadget to grab my attention.

4. And the winner is… Special recognition goes out this year to HP for its continual forward-thinking banner ads. HP’s ads, developed by Freestyle Interactive, stand out as the standard for interactive excellence by which every interactive agency should measure itself. Its “True to the Original” campaign still goes down as one of the most beautiful banner ads I’ve ever seen.

5. Back to the drawing board. Some technologies just never did seem to catch on, at least this year. IBM’s HotMedia never quite got off the launching pad, and this month seems to have been scaled back by IBM even more. DigiScents, the rich media smell technology, still gets the occasional article but little else. And PacketVideo moved away from its IPO and still seems years away from delivering on its promise.

6. Looking at the world through 3D glasses. 3D made something of a comeback this year with Pulse Entertainment, RichFX, Shout Interactive, and others showing strong work, although I was saddened to hear of the recent demise of Dotcomix, a 3D entertainment site developed by graphics pioneer Brad deGraf. Macromedia still hasn’t released Shockwave3D, but look for that sometime next year.

7. The river is broad. And finally, this is the year I became a broadband junkie when I installed my cable modem from Cablevision. I don’t know about the rest of the country, but here in the New York suburbs, Cablevision’s Optimum Online service is a huge winner (with great TV ads).

Right here, right now, I reiterate one of my earlier predictions: Self-installed cable modems will win the broadband war. The Baby Bells have blown this opportunity bigtime with the worst customer service on the face of the planet. And if others follow Cablevision’s lead (which never seems to pop up on those broadband surveys for some reason, and which owns the Wiz electronics store chain where you buy the cable modems), then the installed base of at-home broadband users will skyrocket in 2001. I know that I, for one, will never go back to the 56K dark ages.

Until next week, keep it rich!

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